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Meetings set to discuss economic future
October 31, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
The public is invited to a series of upcoming meetings around the Panhandle to discuss common problems throughout the region and ways to work together more efficiently.

Hosted by the Panhandle Area Development District (PADD), the meeting in Gering is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the Wildcat Room at the Gering Civic Center. Other meetings are planned in Alliance, Sidney and Chadron.

“We’re trying to determine what our strengths and assets are,” said Daniel Bennett, regional planner with PADD. “One of the main goals of this process it trying to align and link up our resources to work better for us.”

PADD recently completed a survey of elected and public officials and business people around the region, asking about problems and potential solutions.

A few common problems emerged from the survey. They included low-quality housing, young people leaving the area, lack of professional job opportunities and lack of recreational opportunities.

Chuck Karpf, PADD executive director, said many of the problems are a self-fulfilling prophecy. With no good paying jobs, young people won’t come back. That means there are fewer kids in the schools.

“I think the cities have to stop worrying about getting something that another city doesn’t have,” Karpf said. “We need to start working together. We need to be proactive in making things better rather than just waiting for the worst to happen. Maybe instead of worrying about our taxes being too high, we should focus on how we spend that money and what our investments should be.”

He said too many businesses focus on paying their employees less and less rather than keeping people with skilled positions on board by paying them more.

“When I decided to come out here, I had it all figured out how I would get rid of two or three people in the bank,” Karpf said. “My father said no, because our job was to hire people and pay people more. We need more of that attitude. We don’t need a few people making a lot more money, we need a lot of people making a little more money.”

A recent economic study done by the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the state Legislature revealed that District 48, most of Scotts Bluff County, trails most of the state in wages and level of education. Plus, the area surpasses much of the state in the levels of poverty.

Karpf said the answer is to address the problems regionally, with businesses and government working together to find solutions.

Bennett added that while ease of transportation is strong in the community, those without it find it difficult to look for jobs. “We need to do what we can to raise the bottom,” he said.

While the PADD survey revealed employers were concerned about young people leaving the area, not much has been done to bring them back.

“If a business will pay an average of 25 to 30 thousand a year, all kinds of young people will come back here,” Karpf said. “But if you keep opening businesses that pay two to 10 dollars an hour, no one will come back for that. We should change our attitude of trying to be the cheapest producer and start being the best producer. We need to look for jobs that start at 10 dollars an hour plus benefits rather than ones that end there.”

He also said that rather than having young people come back, most people would be just as happy if everyone got a 10 percent raise.

“Economic development isn’t just growing your population,” Karpf said. “It’s also about growing your economy whether your population is growing or not.”

Bennett said the upcoming meetings are open to anyone who has a passion for seeing the region improve. “We want to attract a diverse and committed crowd and pool all our information to see what we can do together.”
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